One of the most effective combat aircraft gets pushed aside for one yet to serve.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is unveiling the Pentagon’s proposed budget today—a budget that will dramatically scale back the size of the military. But in order to save the most sacred of cows in its ongoing modernization efforts, the Pentagon is proposing the elimination of what has arguably been the most effective combat aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory: the A-10 Thunderbolt II.
Known for its survivability, the A-10 is capable of flying with half a wing, one tail fin, one elevator, and one engine torn off. It’s also cheaper to fly and can fly more frequent missions than the aircraft that the Air Force proposes to replace it with: the F-35. But because of its low glamor and low-tech nature, the A-10 is assigned largely to Air National Guard squadrons these days. So with the Department of Defense now planning to re-shuffle the roles of reserve and Guard units in a shrinking fighting force, the A-10s are an easy target for the budget knife. The Air Force announced in January that it would eliminate a third of the existing A-10s in its inventory—102 aircraft—with the remainder to go when the F-35 finally arrives for service. The new plan will retire the entire A-10 fleet.
The A-10 was originally built in the early 1970s, and it was designed to combat Soviet tank columns with its enormous seven-barrel 30-millimeter Gatling-gun cannon. Known for its pugnacious looks as the “Warthog,” the A-10 could also carry a variety of guided and unguided weapons, and it proved its usefulness against a wide range of enemies while flying close air support for troops in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force reported that the 60 A-10s that flew in Iraq had an 86 percent mission success rate.
Today, there are two arguments for cutting the A-10. The first argument from the Air Force is that in an era of shrinking budgets and pared-down ambitions, the military needs a more flexible, multi-role aircraft to do more jobs—not an airplane that’s perfect for a smaller number of them. But considering the troubles that the F-35 has faced and the fact that not a single squadron of any of the variants of the F-35 has yet to be fielded, the wisdom of the Pentagon’s aircraft calculus is open to debate.
Read more at ARS Technica
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